Words by Jessica Skinner
Photos by Roger Ho
Sometimes life throws you a curve ball. For example, a last-minute announcement for a surprise Gary Clark Jr. show at the Historic Scoot Inn on Wednesday night. And if you were savvy enough to find and accept the challenge (waiting in line with hundreds of other people at noon on Wednesday to score a free wristband for the show), you know by now that you definitely did the right thing.
Last night, local hip-hop artists Zeale and Phranchyze warmed up a capacity crowd for a hometown show from Gary Clark Jr. and his band. To no one’s surprise, Clark and his band turned the backyard of the Historic Scoot Inn into a lively party as they took over the venue for a ripping 1.5 hour set. Distorted guitar riffs echoed across tin roofs throughout the car-lined streets of the East 4th neighborhood, proudly announcing the Austin guitar hero’s return to town.
The band dipped into hits from Clark’s self-titled EP and major-label debut Blak And Blu, adding the soulful improvisational flair that has earned Clark international acclaim. The crowd delighted at the band’s tight-knit chemistry, which provided a feel-good performance from Clark and bandmates Johnny Bradley (bass), Eric “King” Zapata (rhythm guitar), and Johnny Radelat (drums).
Clark’s live performance, like the legendary rhythm and blues guitarists he’s oft compared to, consistently delivers those ephemeral moments that are far too often edited out for studio production. The grinding guitar riffs and unscripted solos that came alive on the patio stage last night felt like a special treat just for us, the adoring audience. It’s as though these extended instrumentals prove to be too magical to be fully captured in studio renditions — though the new double-disc Gary Clark, Jr. Live album comes pretty damn close.
While Clark was once a staple of the Austin nightlife, in recent years these performances have become less frequent as he has earned an international audience. The hometown heavyweight’s guitar licks have earned him comparisons to Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, an invitation from Eric Clapton to perform at the Crossroads Guitar Festival, and a GRAMMY for Best Traditional R&B Performance for “Please Come Home.”
Throughout last night’s performance, local fans shouted declarations of love and hometown pride at the stage in appreciation of not only his meteoric rise, but to say thanks for a special evening. Clark used his words sparingly, returning a few sweet nothings between wailing numbers that rocked fans into celebratory twists, shouts, and chants for “Gary” after an amazing set.